By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin Department of Justice task force on Wednesday released draft legislation designed to protect senior citizens and vulnerable adults from exploitation, including bills that would define new crimes, create penalty enhancers and speed up court proceedings for elderly victims and witnesses.
The National Association of Attorneys General last year called on members to focus on elder abuse.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel responded by forming a task force comprised of representatives from the state DOJ, the state Departments of Health Services and Financial Institutions and the Wisconsin Bankers Association, among other organizations. The group released its recommendations Wednesday, including draft proposals of four bills.
The legislation would make any act of sexual misconduct against a person age 60 or older a felony punishable by up to 60 years in prison. It also would create another new felony called physical abuse of an elder person that carries penalties ranging from three-and-a-half years to 40 years in prison, depending on the severity of the crime. Judges could add two, four or six years to sentences in crimes involving the elderly, depending on the offense’s maximum sentence.
Judges also would be required to expedite court hearings involving elderly victims and witnesses to minimize stress on them.
Securities professionals would be allowed to notify the DFI and protective service agencies of suspected financial exploitation of vulnerable and elderly adults and refuse or delay transactions when exploitation is suspected.
Schimel, a Republican, sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker and legislative leaders from both parties on Tuesday outlining the legislation and urging passage. He noted that elder abuse is increasing as the elderly population grows, citing state DHS data that shows a 160 percent increase in reported elder abuse in Wisconsin since 2001.
Legislators wrapped up their regular two-year session this spring but are expected to return for an extraordinary session a week after the Nov. 6 election to consider whether to offer tax incentives to paper products maker Kimberly-Clark.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office has said the session will focus exclusively on Kimberly-Clark, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he would be open to considering other bills.
Fitzgerald spokesman Dan Romportl didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the elder abuse bills. Neither did Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer. Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg also didn’t immediately reply to an email.
Schimel faces Democratic challenger Josh Kaul in November. Kaul’s spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, said in a statement that elder abuse has increased during Schimel’s tenure and she ripped him for issuing the proposals less than five weeks before the election.
“It shouldn’t take an upcoming election for our attorney general to take action to protect Wisconsinites,” she said.
Schimel’s campaign manager, Johnny Koremenos, countered that the attorney general has been fighting elder abuse throughout his term.
“Brad Schimel isn’t going to stop doing his job just because it’s time to campaign to keep his job,” Koeremenos said.